It was quite fascinating to see the reaction generated by my “Scathing Indictment” of the Selection Committee of the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame (published here on November 16th).
If you didn’t read the piece, here’s the story… Geordie Hilton, from 1978-88 the Executive Director of the then Royal Canadian Golf Association – now Golf Canada – died of AIDS at age 38, in 1990. I nominated him for induction into the Hall of Fame, in the Builder category, in 2012… because I discovered then that no one else had done so. My nomination was seconded by Dick Grimm, and supported by personal letters of endorsement from prominent people who knew Geordie and his record, including Jack Nicklaus, Deane Beman, Greg Norman, Ken Schofield, Richard Zokol, and 8 others.
For reasons which have never been explained, the Selection Committee rejected the nomination for four straight years, until I withdrew it from further consideration… and then wrote my column.
About 98% of the reaction was positive, for which I thank those who commented. They agreed with me that it’s a travesty that Geordie wasn’t honoured, especially in view of the support from such a prominent list of people who KNEW him, but also in view of the equal or (arguably) lesser credentials of several other people whose names are in the Hall. Many commenters drew the conclusion that the reason for his rejection may be homophobia… a question I raised in my column, but not a conclusion that I have personally drawn.
All I received from the Selection Committee was an emailed letter from its Chair, Sandra Post, informing me of the bad news and suggesting I try the provincial Hall of Fame. The Committee’s vote has always been secret, and whenever I’ve asked what the vote result was, I’ve been met with an omerta that would make Don Corleone proud.
However, interestingly, Ms. Post did inform a reporter from the Toronto Sun that Geordie did not receive even 3 votes in favour, and would therefore not have been eligible for another year of candidacy. Why this was not conveyed to me, the Proposer, is yet another mystery enshrouding the Committee’s secret deliberations.
But it doesn’t matter, we had already withdrawn his name. We’d seen enough spitting on Geordie’s grave, thank you. But good for you for getting that final HORK in there, Sandra… very classy.
I alerted the offices of Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman that they might receive a call for reaction from the Toronto Sun. Even though I had not used their names in my column, it was obvious from my description who these eminent players were. Greg Norman responded to me with a note of surprise and disbelief about the outcome, and said I was welcome to publicly use his name in support. He was a great admirer of Geordie Hilton and his legacy, which he saw first-hand, while most of the Committee probably hadn’t ever heard of Geordie until my nomination was received.
Richard Zokol called me and expressed his bewilderment at Geordie’s rejection. Richard, like Nicklaus, Grimm and one other letter writer, is a member of the Canadian Hall of Fame, and has been 100% consistent in his view that Geordie belongs in that place of honour as much as anyone who’s in there.
A fellow golf journalist, whom I may have met in passing twice in my life, decided to write a scathing indictment of me and my column in an online golf site that few people apparently bother to read. Incredulously for a journalist, he went for my jugular while completely missing the point of my column. I won’t insult him by mentioning his name.
Then there was a commenter below my column who berated me for mentioning that Geordie was gay, when Geordie had kept this fact secret for most of his life. I responded that Geordie’s surviving brother and sisters had allowed me to state this fact in my column (they had read every draft along the way). Besides, I’m afraid Geordie basically declared his lifestyle choice when he admitted, in 1988, that he was dying of AIDS.
I had a polite exchange of messages with a senior executive of Golf Canada who expressed some concern that Golf Canada itself was getting tarred with my brush of scorn. Even though the Hall of Fame is funded by Golf Canada, and staffed by Golf Canada, this person took pains to point out that the Committee stands alone and is independent. Fair enough, and we made a couple of changes in the text to reflect that.
But it was telling, to me, that this executive did not defend the Committee’s decision or try to explain why Geordie’s nomination did not succeed. I continue to respect this person.
I suspect that, sadly, this is where the matter will rest. Geordie will never enter the Hall of Fame, the Selection Committee will go on making good decisions on some people, and dreadful, inexplicable, indefensible decisions on others, like Geordie. And they will do so because their decisions are made in secret, and unless you’re Sherlock Holmes, you’ll be challenged to find out who’s on the Committee.
Those who believe the Committee’s decision on Geordie was based not on his impeccable credentials, but solely on a desire not to honour a deceased gay person, will continue to believe that.
And 15 people who knew Geordie Hilton, and who supported his good name and reputation, will continue to believe that he was an outstanding executive who did as much as anyone in the 20th Century to elevate and promote the game of golf in Canada.
Geordie, my friend, that will have to be honour enough.